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What Is Mead, and Is It Good for You?

Health + Wellness
RoNeDya / iStock / Getty Images

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Mead is a fermented beverage traditionally made from honey, water and a yeast or bacterial culture.


Sometimes called "the drink of the gods," mead has been cultivated and consumed across the world for thousands of years.

This article explores mead and its possible benefits and pitfalls.

What Is Mead?

Mead or "honey wine," is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey.

It's one of the oldest alcoholic beverages ever made, as it was consumed as far back as 4,000 years. Interestingly, mead was common across ancient cultures around the world including those in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Though similar to beer, wine or cider, mead occupies a beverage category on its own since its primary fermentable sugar is honey.

All you need to make basic mead is honey, water and a yeast or bacterial culture. However, ingredients such as fruits, herbs, spices, grains, roots and flowers are often included as well.

Mead's alcohol content varies but is typically around 5–20%. Its flavor profile ranges from very sweet to very dry, and it's available in both sparkling and still versions.

Summary

Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey. Its historical significance dates back thousands of years, and it's available in many styles.

Does Science Support Suggested Health Benefits?

In ancient cultures, mead was associated with good health and vitality. In Greek mythology, it was often referred to as "the drink of the gods" and allegedly given to warriors after a fight to enhance healing of their battle injuries.

Today, many still believe that drinking mead benefits your health and that the drink has healing properties. However, there is limited evidence supporting these claims.

Most modern health claims related to drinking mead are centered around the honey from which the drink is made and the probiotic content it's presumed to have as a result of the fermentation process.

Therapeutic Benefits of Honey

Honey has been used for its culinary and therapeutic applications for centuries.

Research indicates that honey has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, both of which have driven its use in ancient and modern medicine to treat a variety of physical ailments (1).

Today it's frequently used as a topical treatment for skin wounds and infections, or consumed orally to soothe a cough or sore throat (1).

Some claim that because mead is made from honey, it possesses the same medicinal properties. Yet, there is no significant evidence to support this notion.

As of now, it remains unclear if fermented honey has the same therapeutic properties as unfermented honey.

Probiotics and Gut Health

Mead is often heeded as a health-tonic due to its potential probiotic content.

Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate quantities, can have a positive impact on your immunity and gut health (2).

Although the understanding of how probiotics support human health is still at an early stage, some research indicates they could help prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, allergies and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders (2, 3).

Unfortunately, there is no research specifically evaluating mead as a source of probiotics or how the drink may affect your health.

Additionally, the probiotic content of different types of mead could vary significantly. The fermentation process plus the other ingredients included in the beverage could affect the concentration of beneficial bacteria in the final drink.

What's more, the alcohol content of mead may counteract any possible benefits, as excessive alcohol consumption is associated with negative changes in your gut bacteria (4).

Until more research is available, it cannot be confirmed that drinking mead offers any health benefits by way of its probiotic content.

Summary

Mead is often touted for promoting health because of the honey it's made from and its potential probiotic content. Currently, no research supports these notions.

Potential Downsides of Drinking Too Much

Though frequently praised for its health benefits, drinking mead could have negative health consequences that may be worth considering before you start filling your glass.

Alcohol Content

The alcohol content of mead ranges from about 5% to 20%. For comparison, regular grape wine has a typical alcohol content of about 12–14%.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health risks including liver disease, systemic inflammation and impaired digestive and immune system function (4, 5).

The American Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting your alcohol intake to one serving per day for women and two for men. One serving equals about five fluid ounces (148 ml) of mead with 12% alcohol by volume (ABV) (6).

Given the relatively high alcohol content of mead, it could be easy to go overboard, especially if you're drinking it under the assumption that it's good for your health.

Mead should be treated like any other alcoholic beverage. It's good to exercise moderation and limit your intake if you plan to drink it.

Allergic Reactions

For most people, mead is generally well tolerated in moderation.

Mead is typically gluten-free, depending on what is added during the fermentation process. Thus, if you have a gluten allergy, double check the mead you plan to drink to ensure no gluten-containing ingredients were included in the brew.

Mead may potentially cause serious allergic reactions in some people, especially those with honey and alcohol allergies or intolerances.

Though rare, there have been reports of honey leading to anaphylactic reactions. If you've ever had a serious allergic reaction to honey or bee pollen, it may be a good idea to avoid drinking mead (7).

Additionally, if you've ever been diagnosed with an alcohol intolerance or allergy, you should not drink mead as its alcohol content could trigger symptoms.

Calorie Content

Mead is a high-calorie beverage, thus, overconsumption could negatively impact your health.

Drinking too much of any alcoholic beverage, including mead, can increase your blood triglycerides, blood pressure and your risk of obesity and diabetes (8).

While there isn't much information available on the precise nutritional content of mead, pure alcohol alone provides 7 calories per gram.

One serving of any alcoholic beverage contains about 14 grams of alcohol, equaling at least 100 calories. This doesn't take into account any of the calories from, for example, the sugar in the mead (6).

Summary

Excessive consumption of alcohol and calories from mead could lead to serious health problems. For sensitive individuals, there's also a risk of allergic reactions from the honey or alcohol in the drink.

The Bottom Line

Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.

Due to its honey and potential probiotic content, it's touted as offering various health benefits, but scientific evidence to back up these claims is lacking.

Additionally, its alcohol content may negate benefits and, in fact, cause health issues.

As with any other alcoholic beverage, practice moderation and enjoy it responsibly.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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